The upcoming EU battery regulation and an impact on product design

Published on: 29th September 2022

The EU Council adopted a draft regulation concerning batteries on 17 March 2022: a significant milestone on the road towards replacing the existing Batteries Directive (2006/66/EC). While any future Regulation will not come into force for some time, the draft gives a good idea of the future regulatory requirements. So, what does this mean for the design of products including batteries?

Much of the draft regulation concerns the manufacture and recycling of batteries themselves. The classification of batteries has also been updated in the draft to include a category for light transport vehicles and there are a number of draft requirements applicable to batteries themselves, including performance, durability and labelling. Battery manufacturers will need to comply with the regulation once it is in place, so the onus on designers here will largely be that of due diligence in selecting a battery supplier and only designing in batteries that are compliant with the regulations.

However, Article 11 of the draft regulation is more relevant to the design of products that contain batteries. This Article of the regulation concerns the removability and replacement of portable batteries, defined as sealed batteries weighing under 5kg, not designed for industrial purposes, electric vehicles or automotive applications. Article 11 in the draft states:

“Portable batteries incorporated in appliances shall be readily removable and replaceable by the end-user or by independent operators during the lifetime of the appliance, if the batteries have a shorter lifetime than the appliance, or at the latest at the end of the lifetime of the appliance.

A battery is readily replaceable where, after its removal from an appliance, it can be substituted by a similar battery, without affecting the functioning or the performance of that appliance.”

There are some exceptions:

“The obligations set out in paragraph 1 shall not apply where

(a) continuity of power supply is necessary and a permanent connection between the appliance and the portable battery is required for safety, performance, medical or data integrity reasons; or

(b) the functioning of the battery is only possible when the battery is integrated into the structure of the appliance.”

The definition of “readily replaceable” is a new addition compared to Article 11 of the existing Batteries Directive:

“Member States shall ensure that manufacturers design appliances in such a way that waste batteries and accumulators can be readily removed. Where they cannot be readily removed by the end-user, Member States shall ensure that manufacturers design appliances in such a way that waste batteries and accumulators can be readily removed by qualified professionals that are independent of the manufacturer. Appliances in which batteries and accumulators are incorporated shall be accompanied by instructions on how those batteries and accumulators can be safely removed by either the end-user or by independent qualified professionals. Where appropriate, the instructions shall also inform the end-user of the types of battery or accumulator incorporated into the appliance.

The provisions set out in the first paragraph shall not apply where, for safety, performance, medical or data integrity reasons, continuity of power supply is necessary and a permanent connection between the appliance and the battery or accumulator is required.”

This addition is consistent with the draft regulation’s impact assessment statement where the “medium level of ambition” relating to design requirements for portable batteries is a “Strengthened obligation on removability”.

Many products currently on the market include batteries that are not accessible without irreversible disassembly of the product. A reasonably common practice for products sealed against water ingress is for manufacturers to specify battery removal at end of life using a destructive process, damaging the casework and/or internal components (e.g. the Philips Sonicare 4500/5100 toothbrush).

In some products, batteries are adhered to the inner surfaces of casework, which is a space-saving approach to secure the heavy battery in place but, depending on the adhesive used, can damage the casework during removal. Similarly, products whose casework is closed using adhesive or welding during final assembly steps may require a destructive process to subsequently gain access to the battery. A third party who provides a battery replacement service will then require a supply of parts to rebuild the product following the destructive steps to access the battery.

Whether these practices remain acceptable under the final form of the new battery regulation remains to be seen, especially in applications where it is not easy to define the life of the appliance as being shorter than the life of the battery.

This new regulation and the requirements for battery replacement may introduce significant design challenges for products where this conflicts with other needs such as ingress sealing or visual design. The problem will be difficult to address unless design, mechanical engineering and electrical engineering teams collaborate closely to find the most appropriate solution for a given product. DCA’s integrated, multidisciplinary design service is ideally suited to this challenge.